My Cult Hero XI
Hearts like many other football clubs throughout the world have many cult heroes, players who are largely ignored outside of club circles but adored by a section of the support. The days spent identifying Lithuanian players by number only and banter years spent under Vladimir Romanov were particularly fruitful in terms of unearthing cult stars, with the fans’ gallows humour used to turn despair into something altogether more positive. Here I will try and put together a full side containing players who have cult status at the club. Here’s my all-time Hearts cult heroes XI, and if you disagree with any of the choices, feel free to use the comments section below to make further suggestions
Two pieces of vital criteria were used when selecting players: 1 – Player can have no more than 100 appearances for the club 2 – The player cannot have collected a winner medal (league or cup) during their time at the club
Marian Kello (Honourable mention Jon Mclaughlin) Marian Kello will always be remembered fondly by the fans after the integral role he played as number 1 choice at the club under Jim Jefferies. Signed from Kaunas on a free in 2008, his first two seasons at the club saw him sharing goalkeeping duties with Janos Balogh before establishing himself with many clean sheets and capable performances. His inclusion in this team however, can be mainly based on one show of respect and class during a league clash with Hamilton in 2010 in honour of goalkeeping legend Jim Cruickshank who had passed a few days prior. To cap it off Kello would go on to save a Simon Mensing penalty that day which would draw praise from Jim Jeffries who had played alongside Cruickshank. His form during the 2010/11 season earned him various supporters club awards but a fallout over a failure to sign a new contract the following season saw Kello allowed to leave for free in January 2012.
Stephen Frail (Honourable mention Jimmy Sandison) Signed in 1994 by Sandy Clark, the rise of Stephen Frail to one of the finest right-backs in Scotland during the following 12 months was a remarkable one to observe. A great wing back before they were in fashion, with a great engine and crossing ability, Stephen Frail quickly endeared himself to fans with two important goals against Celtic & Dundee United towards the tail end of the 1993/94 season which helped ease relegation fears. An unfortunate knee injury picked up the following season ended talk of a Scotland call-up and Frail was unable to lodge Gary Locke from the right back position when he returned and eventually left the club in 1998 to join Tranmere.
Stephane Mahe (Honourable mention Igor Rossi) Few on the list can lay claim to being quite as tenacious as Stephane Mahe, a player whose all-action style made him a huge hit with supporters despite an injury hit second year during his spell at the club between 2001-2003. He played for the club at a time in which Craig Levein was still trying to stamp his mark on the squad. 2001-2002 made for a testing ride, but Mahe provided the fans with one constant. He gave the same kind of industry week in, week out, and that’s an attribute that always goes down well with supporters. His most memorable moment in maroon is arguably his late goal helping his team complete a comeback 3-2 victory at Pittodrie in 2012 with a fine right footed strike.
Pasquale Bruno (Honourable mention Ismael Bouzid) Having been bereft of a defensive leader since the injury of Craig Levein in 1995, Jim Jefferies set about trying to find a player capable of inspiring the side and demanding more from those around him. Heart’s 95/96 Premier League campaign started badly, with the club languishing at the foot of the table after defeats to the likes of Partick Thistle & Falkirk. Bruno’s arrival along with the new blend of youth and experience changed everything. Suddenly there was dynamism and direction, and Hearts, with the Italian enforcer spurring them on, moved up the league to finish in a respectable 4th spot along with a first Cup Final appearance in 10 years. Bouts of indiscipline, and a poor league cup final appearance the following season limited his impact. He only played 49 times for the club in total, but the role he played has never been forgotten.
Graeme Hogg (Honourable mention Andy Thorn) The fact that the two most memorable contributions Graeme Hogg provided to my early footballing memories of following Hearts involve sharing a likening to my favourite Auf Wiedersehen Pet character & being punched by a fellow player in a friendly match confirms his Cult Hero credentials. Not blessed with the pace and man marking skills of McLaren or grace that Levein possessed, Hogg was nothing more than a bit player during his 3-year stint at the club but was always a threat at set players and never shirked a tackle. The fall guy during the whole “punch gate” saga, Hogg was transfer listed and moved on to the lower leagues in England in late 1994.
Juanjo (Honourable mention Laryea Kingston) A Jim Jefferies signing from Barcelona in the Autumn of 1998, Juanjo Carricondo Perez became something of a cult hero during his time at Hearts but this relationship did not fully start to blossom until the final day of the 99/00 season when he scored a fine solo goal in a 2-1 victory over Hibs. His direct style of play won plaudits as he showcased his silky skills and delightful tricks and he produced some magical moments against the likes of Dundee Utd, Kilmarnock and St Mirren. Fans were left disappointed when he departed for Bradford City after talks stalled on a new contract in 2001 and the player himself has been quoted previously as saying that Craig Levein had pushed him out the door due to “not appreciating his skills”
Jean Louis Valois (Honourable mention David Milinkovic)
The signing of Jean-Louis Valois came out of the blue for Hearts fans. He suddenly appeared one day as a trialist for a friendly match at Brockville, and I think it’s fair to say that before that time, few Hearts fans were aware of the former Luton & Auxerre player and talk leading up to this game was that we had been looking at former Inter Milan & Argentinian cap Sebastien Rambert. His first couple of appearances offered little to excite fans. It was in Heart’s 1st home league match, against neighbour’s Hibs, where the Frenchman began to develop a reputation for creativity and flair play that Hearts so lacked at the time. However, the main word to describe Valois’ time at Hearts has to be inconsistent. The main example being his media-heralded performance in the famous victory over Hibs and his form during the first couple of months after this. Fast forward a few months and he would sometimes go ninety minutes without touching the ball and even worse, he seemed to look like he didn’t care about it. To his credit though he made enough of an impression on fans for them to still occasionally belt 12 days of Valois.
Phil Stamp (Honourable mention Dave McCreery) ‘Stampy’ completely redefined the term ‘cult hero’ after his much-heralded winning goal at Easter Road in 2002. That goal and sending off capped off a memorable comeback in a match that the team really had no right to win. Had it not been for that goal I’m quite sure that Stamp would still have been remembered due to him contributing to a very consistent Hearts side who also recorded some of their greatest European results but I can’t quite imagine it being with the same amount of fondness as exists now – it just goes to show you how much the derby fixture means to people.
Don Cowie (Honourable mention Jim Bett) One of the consistent themes with cult heroes is that they can be divisive characters who excite and frustrate fans in equal measures. Trawling through Kickback match day ratings (very hazardous for your health), you could see a cult hero getting anything ranging from a 4 to an 8. No player embodies that more from recent times at the club than Don Cowie. One of the best examples of a professional player in terms of application and working hard to improve on limited skills that I have seen represent the club, Cowie was one of a select few who seemed to survive the Cathro reign unscathed and helped restore “Natural Order” to the Edinburgh derby fixture with a winning goal in the Scottish cup last year. Has returned to his first Love Ross County at the beginning of the 18/19 season but like many on the list gets the club and enjoyed his spell even with the revolving door policy of signings at the time.
Kyle Lafferty (Honourable mention Ricardo Fuller) Could be deemed to be the most controversial inclusion on this list given that he went running back to his ex the moment they flashed a bit of ankle at him but his shithousery and knack for turning up for the big games brought some light to a drab and uninspiring 17/18 season. A good example of a player who can use social media and sound bites to gain a cult following without needing to excel on the park, with even his signing at the club ahead or rival’s Hibs earning him brownie points before a ball had been kicked. Will no doubt now have a bit of a pantomime villain tag again with some fans, but his contribution to victories over Celtic & Hibs should never be forgotten.
Ian Baird (Honourable mention Kevin Kyle) Hearts had struggled to replace Sandy Clark for many years and Joe Jordan was also looking to try and bring in an old-fashioned centre forward much in the same mould as himself. Step forward Ian Baird who although had his fair share of critics would ultimately win over the masses and end his second and final season at the club with a player of the year award. An unselfish worker who brought others into the game, it would be his non-goal scoring exploits that would make the most headlines at the club. Spats with fans in Brechin, taking Campbell Money out at Love Street in a cup game and having to play in goal at Pittodrie in a 3-2 loss being amongst the highlights.